The Untold Lives of British Convicts Sold to America


Many know that Australia was once a colony of convicts hailing from Britain. But have you heard about America’s very own convict past?

One Australian scholar set out to tell their story.

When we think about some of America’s first settlers, the Mayflower landing in 1620 often comes to mind. But the colonization of North American began before the Pilgrims, with the founding of Jamestown in 1607.

According to Robert Railton, Australia-based scholar, the success of the colony depended on “the labor of British convicts, vagabonds and waifs swept from the streets of British cities.”

What Were Their Lives Like?

Railton’s in-depth research indicates that many British convicts traveled to their destination on uncomfortable, rat-infested cargo ships. Crimes that attracted banishment were ones against society, such as theft and deception. The most common crime committed by British convicts shipped to America was theft.

The gender ratio for males to females was 2:1. Ages varied wildly; one girl was aged nine and four boys were 10 years old. In contrast, 19 men and 11 women were in their nineties. The convicts’ sentences varied from seven or 14 years to life in prison.